by Michaela Johnston
Photography by Amanda Chaplin and Aaron
Mara Sherline, freshman at the University of Redlands, journeyed to Ecuador and Peru for a five-month gap year before attending school this past fall.
Sherline took Spanish for 12 years and also hosted an exchange student from Ecuador during high school, so she was excited to solidify her passion for language while abroad.
In addition to taking Spanish classes, Sherline volunteered with a fair-trade organization called FairMail where she taught photography to a group of ten Peruvian teenagers for two months. Sherline left the last 25 days of her trip open, allowing some flexibility to plan once she was there.
“The biggest highlight was that my uncle was…in Ecuador during the same time,” she said. “We planned it so that we would hike together. I was hiking with him and a couple of his buddies in the Andes and it was super, super cool.”
Sherline is headed on another solo trip to Cuba for two weeks this spring. She is looking forward to sitting in on classes at the University of Havana and enjoying the freedoms that come with traveling alone.
“Everything is completely up to you,” she said. “You have to become comfortable with being alone. I’m introverted, so…a lot of times I like being alone. It’s still a new type of alone because you’re in a foreign place and you don’t know anybody…you just have to be able to jump into social situations and start conversation.”
What is your advice for solo travelers?
Remember that even if you’re really scared sitting at home doing research, once you get there and see your surroundings you’re going to feel a lot less scared; it’s a lot less intimidating once you’re actually there.
If there were one thing that Aaron Whitaker (CAS ’17) took away from solo travel, it would be figuring out his way around. The BU senior, who is currently studying “abroad” in Washington D.C., spent last summer studying in Dublin, Ireland. While abroad, Whitaker took a few solo trips, including to Copenhagen, Denmark and Stockholm, Sweden.
“One thing I liked about traveling solo was just being able to be on my own schedule and do things on my own,” he said. “I got to spend time alone which is nice after spending a summer with like 40 other college students in Dublin. Being by myself and [having the time for] self-reflection was really beneficial for me.”
A trip becomes an adventure when plans go awry. When Whitaker’s Airbnb hostess didn’t show up in Copenhagen, he said he had to scramble on a Saturday night to figure out where he was going to stay…with a 50-pound suitcase.
“In the end, I was able to find a single room which is easier to find than a room [shared] with 4 people,” he said. “At the same time, it was kind of nerve wracking to be alone and feel lost in a new place when you have no one else to help you.”
Despite this hiccup, Whitaker enjoyed exploring museums and partaking in activities like the ‘Carlsberg Exbeerience’, an authentic look inside a Copenhagen brewery.
What is your advice to solo travelers?
If you’re going to a country that speaks a different language, definitely know the language…be aware of common phrases to get around. Don’t be afraid to meet new people. You might run into other solo travelers.
Amanda Chaplin (SAR ’19) officially caught the travel bug. The BU sophomore and president of the Students for Israel club on campus kicked off her worldwide adventures after visiting Israel for the first time this summer with her family. She returned to Israel on a two-week activism trip over winter break with her fellow BU students.
“You can go on activism trips and they take you to the most political areas that are discussed in the states so that you can experience stuff with your own eyes versus what the media presents,” she said. “I’ve been to the West Bank…that puts you into some really uncomfortable situations but it’s important to travel to these places and see what is actually going on because what you see in the media really isn’t true. It’s so skewed and that’s why there is so much conflict.”
Chaplin stopped in Amsterdam for an eight-hour solo escapade after the two-week program. “I was very apprehensive about going to Europe on my own,” she said. “Traveling alone you learn a lot about yourself, the kind of person you are and how you interact with the world. You’re thrown into a different environment.”
“If you’re alone, you’ll end up walking somewhere or talking with people you probably wouldn’t have if you were with a group,” Chaplin said. “You’re really present and interacting with the world when you’re by yourself. With other people, it’s more like a vacation.”
What is your advice to solo travelers?
I think everyone should 100 percent do it. I really think it’s important to see and experience the world if you’re going to stay living in the States for your whole entire life. It’s so important to be exposed to different cultures and opinions.